Ashlee Busch

Music is the drink of the dreamer...

Conductors are our friends! (Part 1)

I’ve had the great honor to work with some amazing conductors. Men and women who not only have a gift for incredible beauty in the physical language of conducting, but a fierce desire to improve the relationship between all musical parties - composer, performer, audience, and beyond. Several months ago, I attended a symposium on conducting at Michigan State University run by the MSU Director of Orchestras, Kevin Noe. Professor Noe is also the Executive Artistic Director of the Pittsburg New Music Ensemble. It was my honor to attend Professor Noe’s studio classes for a year while pursuing my master’s degree at MSU. I returned for this symposium and, as usual, Professor Noe and the attending conductors brought up many, many fantastic points for composers to consider...

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1: Composers often forget that the path between the composer and the performer necessitates an interpreter.

That interpreter is, of course, the conductor. It is rare that a composition lesson goes by without the instructor commenting on score clarity for the sake of the performers. And rightly so. But admittedly, never did I have a composition lesson during which the instructor asked, “Is this clear for the conductor.” This is not a failing on the part of my TREMENDOUS composition instructors, rather an interesting insight into the thinking of score creation. Of course composers want their music to be clearly stated for performers. They are our first audience after all. But it is interesting that the conductors is not often thought of within that collective. Now, this is exaggeration. Of course we think of the conductor from the standpoint of score size, ease of page turns, etc. But do we think of them in the creation of individual lines. I endeavor to believe that the best composers do, but young composers often learn this lesson the hard way - during a live reading. Imagine, for example, a score of gentle string ensemble lines just littered with hairpin dynamics. There are so many things to consider here: 1 - Do these markings reflect appropriate orchestrational thought? 2 - Are these markings the entirety of the musical moment taking place? 3 - (Here’s my favorite) Does the inherent nature of the passage match the indicated markings or, is this something that a sensitive and educated conductor would discern on his or her own? The relationship between creator and interpreter is a delicate one. And we must remember that western musical notation is one of the most uncommunicative forms of translating music in existence! Therefore, what questions are we left with here composers?

1) Is your musical language clear enough yet uncluttered by unnecessary notation, especially at the ensemble score level?

2) Do you trust your conducting counterparts to act as an effective interpreter of your musical language?

3) Does the delicate nature of that communication and that relationship necessitate the presence of the composer to truly interpret intentions accurately.

Now, I’ve had wonderful interactions with conductors who dive into my music and stretch it to its furthest potential, discovering things even I hadn’t realized upon writing. However, I’ve also had the opposite experience with conductors who never look beyond the surface. It’s a conundrum for both siblings in this musical relationship.

How do we solve it?

Yesterday I had an amazing teaching experience...

I have a teenage student from a difficult home in a difficult school with a pleasantly difficult attitude. I say pleasantly because she is one of those students who is too intelligent, and she puts her intelligence toward outwitting her teachers WHEN she concludes that they are not worth her time. She will not be condescended to. She will not be mocked. She will not be patronized. These are all good things.

As an added bonus, she is incredibly musically talented. No surprise there.

She spent her first year with me testing, pushing, and challenging everything I said. At first, I was at a loss about how to connect with her. But she made me a better teacher. We grew in our separate roles.

Now, two years later, she is performing chords at the piano while singing along. If you’ve never done this, you don’t know the coordination it takes as well as not only understanding the layout of the piano but a
feel for the choreography. You cannot make a mistake. You must remember proper singing technique and proper piano technique. It takes so much skill, especially for a youngster.

Yesterday we spent our entire lesson discussing how to make her performance more musically moving and emotional. Not correct notes. Not proper singing technique. She did all that on her own. After her lesson was over, she asked to perform it again to make sure she understood what she was to implement AND that she’d done it correctly. Most of the time, when a student performs, I’m paying attention to the mistakes they make and how best to turn those mistakes into teachable moments.

Here, I stopped. And just listened.

I heard her frustration with her peers. I heard her disdain for some of the particulars of her upbringing. I heard her longing for friends she could depend upon. I heard her desire to reach out for others and be accepted for her unusualness just as she is. It was tearfully moving.

Yesterday I had an amazing teaching experience. She taught me.


How I know I'm a music geek:

While watching and listening, I'm wondering the following:

1) How much time did this symphony have to rehearse? A weekend? I'm guessing - and since no doubt every member has performed this piece before.

2) How do the performers feel about the conductor's chosen style of physical communication? Too bouncy? Too MUCH time in it? Too little?

3) Is that sense of momentary lapses in group wide internal tempo coming from my inability to correctly internalize the extreme complexity (and awesome) of Stravinsky's rhythmic structures, or was there actually a momentary lapse in group cohesion?

4) What level of energy did Stravinsky actually want in that opening flute solo? Should it be that pretty? Or should it be more gritty and organic? Did that even cross his mind? What would he think of his music with the modern orchestra and all its changing trends of sound?

People ask me why I can't just LISTEN to music anymore...guess what? This is why Happy


Living in Inspiration

Working with other artists to create collaborative enriching experiences is the best thing about my compositional life.


Almost a year ago, I started working with an artist from Puerto Rico - Nayda Collazo-Llorens. From my first exposure to her work, Nayda’s art captured me because of its uniqueness, bravery, and its ability to exist within time as well as space. Some of the most beautiful, moving art throughout history exists in only one moment of time - a painting, a sculpture. I don’t wish to diminish their beauty and importance, but such art is a captured moment and the observer tends to experience it from the outside looking in. Nayda’s art moves past that barrier.


These images are from a recent installation at the Grand Rapids Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts and they can’t capture a fraction of Nayda’s work. This piece was presented in two parts. In a slightly sectioned off dark corridor within the UICA, one approaches and sees indistinct blurred lights of all colors moving in a gentle but erratic pattern across the walls. I sat within that living light space for a while and began to feel I was pleasantly lost in space.

But then...

I heard music. Nayda’s art writes music in my mind. Just as with ELFsong, the saturating, transportive nature of Nayda’s art inspired me to write.

All artists live in a world of bombarding creative energy. Whether it attacks you and demands expression or you quietly seek out inspiration, artists must NEVER stop stepping outside our corner of the creative world and diving into another. Attend concerts, art galleries, ballets, film festivals, workshops, street fairs - and never stop. If you feel lost, blocked, or tired out by creative energy (and it can be relentless in sucking it from us) then leave your creative corner for a while and go live in another one.

Musical Souls

Congratulations to the GVSU Symphonic Wind Ensemble on their final performance of the year on Friday.


Walking through the halls of that building and hearing the eager weekend plans or complaining about finals, all I can think is - "It's impossible for you to really know (especially if this is your only college experience), but there is something incredibly, unbelievably special about playing in this ensemble with this conductor. And I hope you stop to notice so that you may treasure it." Watching that ensemble, I felt so sad that those days are in my past instead of my future. There is a magic in making MUSIC with other people, and making it well, that is found nowhere else.

Specifically, that program was a wonderful example of how organic and intimate music can be when EVERYONE involved bares their musical souls without fear - the composer AND the conductor AND the performers. I can't speak for what those on stage felt, but the communicativeness of the ensemble was incredible. The composer wrote a piece about a tragedy and sadness the depth of which I can only frighteningly imagine, and the ensemble truly honored the composer with their performance. If he could've heard it, I'm sure he'd had wept.

Bravo to Master Dean Maestro
Kevin Tutt and ALL the members of the GVSU Symphonic Wind Ensemble

Cool Music Events!

October 14
GVSU Symphonic Wind Ensemble
The Grand Valley State University Symphonic Wind Ensemble presents the world premiere of 'Apotheosis' at the newly rebuilt Performing Arts Center on Grand Valley's Allendale campus. Special thanks to conductor and director Kevin Tutt.

September 8 & 9
West Fork New Music Festival
Fairmont State University hosts its annual West Fork New Music Festival in West Virginia! The featured ensemble, Great Noise Ensemble, shall be presenting about themsevles and performing two new works including my chamber piece, Petoskey Stones. I will also be presenting on Saturday at 4:30pm. Special thanks to Great Noise Ensemble and Director/Festival Host Daniel Eichenbaum

June 24, 2017
Sweetwater Sound
Sean and I are headed down to Sweetwater for a 2-day celebration of music, music tech, and hanging out with other musicians! Great way to celebrate my birthday!

May 24, 2017
ELF: A Multimedia Performance
Kalamazoo College
Join us for the screening of ELF (Extremely Low Frequency), a video by Nayda Collazo-Llorens in collaboration with Ander Monson, accompanied by a live performance of ELFsong, an electroacoustic composition by Ashlee Busch for piano, violin and stereo playback.

Kathryn Martin, Violin
Hannah Kim, Piano

Reception starts at 5:30pm and the 8-minute performance will start promptly at 6pm. It will be followed by a Q&A with Ashlee Busch, Nayda Collazo-Llorens and Ander Monson.

March 17, 2017
New Music Ensemble Composition Competition
Grand Valley State University Art Gallery
GVSU music composition students created adventurous, one-minute composition inspired by
Nayda Collazo-Llorens' Comfortably Numb. These compositions will be played by the GVSU New Music Ensemble in rapid succession and judged by a special guest panel and the audience for cash prizes! Opening the show will be the Collaborative work by Nayda Collazo-Llorens and Ander Monson with composer Ashlee Busch's Elfsong.

November 17, 2016
M. I. Concerts
Lansing Brewing Company
Come out and hear some live music at Lansing Brewing Co.! Michigan State University students will be playing a concert of contemporary chamber music composed entirely by composers based in Michigan. At the close of the concert will be the premiere of my piece specially composed for the event - Petosky Stones. There will be delicious beer and food, as well as some exceptional music making. I hope to see you there!

October 4, 2016
Student Composition Recital
IU - Jacobs School of Music
Auer Hall
Undergraduate students at the Jacob School of Music premiere works they've written under an extreme time crunch as a test of their compositional mettle! Performed by a mix of graduate and undergraduate IU performers.

July 22, 2016
ELF: A Multimedia Performance
MakeShift Studio Residence and Gallery
Join us for the screening of ELF (Extremely Low Frequency), a video by Nayda Collazo-Llorens in collaboration with Ander Monson, accompanied by a live performance of ELFsong, an electroacoustic composition by Ashlee Busch for piano, violin and stereo playback with pianist Jack Sligh and violinist Sarah Dowell. A Q&A with the artist and the composer will follow.

April 2, 2016
Tenth Anniversary Concert
GVSU New Music Ensemble
The New Music Ensemble at Grand Valley State University is celebrating their founding with a special 10th anniversary concert on April 2, 2016. With performances by current and former members, the concert will celebrate the group’s long-time collaborator, composer Marc Mellits, on the occasion of his 50th birthday. Featured on the program will be two compositions the ensemble commissioned from Marc, as well as other notable works spanning his significant career. As one of the most performed and recognized American composers of today, we are excited to have Marc joining us for this special occasion.
Will Call only

March 16, 2016
BOP STOP at The Music Settlement in Cleveland, Ohio
GVSU New Music Ensemble

The New Music Ensemble at Grand Valley State University (Allendale, Michigan) will present newly commissioned music from Sarah Kirkland Snider, Gyan Riley, Todd Reynolds, Anna Clyne, Michael Lowenstern, and Marc Mellits. Each work combines the speaking voice of the composers’ compositional heroes—Arvo Pärt, Terry Riley, Meredith Monk, John Cage, James Brown, and Steve Reich, along with the ensemble. In addition, as a tribute to Terry Riley’s 80th birthday year, the ensemble will perform selections from their acclaimed CD “In C Remixed”.
Tickets available at

February 29, 2016
Music at the Forefront
Clazel Theatre
Bowling Green, Ohio
Bearthoven is a piano trio creating new repertoire for a familiar instrumentation by commissioning works from leading young composers. This group is rapidly building a diverse repertoire by challenging composers to apply their own voices to an instrumentation that, while common amonst jazz and pop idioms, is currently foreign in the contemporary classical world.

February 25, 2016
GVSU Art Gallery in the Performing Arts Center on the Allendale Campus
GVSU New Music Ensemble Composition Competition
The New Music Ensemble at Grand Valley State University presents its annual composition competition! The ensemble will perform one-minute, student-created compositions inspired by the exhibition Great Lakes: Image & Word featuring poetry and visual art inspired by Michigan's Great Lakes. Cash prizes are awarded. This event is made possible with the generous support of Larry and Elaine Rutowski Shay. Three of my micro-pieces are included on this concert.

January 26, 2016
GVSU Art Gallery in the Performing Arts Center on the Allendale Campus
Stefan Stolarchuk in Concert
Bass trombonist Stefan Stolarchuk comes to Grand Valley to perform an eclectic program of contemporary works for bass trombone. Stefan's program includes a world premiere of my piece, Unrequited, composed especially for Stefan. He will accompanied by Hyekyung Lee on the piano.

November 2, 2015
GVSU Louis Armstrong Theatre in the Performing Arts Center on the Allendale Campus
GVSU New Music Ensemble
Grand Valley's award-winning New Music Ensemble teams up with former member, Daniel Rhode, and the Kun-Yang Lin Dancers to premiere an entire evening of new music!

September 4, 2015
Michigan Institution for Contemporary Art
Curating Roots
The MICA Gallery is hosting an exhibition that celebrates the local food movement in the Lansing area. The opening of this exhibition will showcase the connection between food, art, and music. Flutist Chelsea Koziatek and band will play a repertoire of music while tapas by "Soup Spoon Cafe" that was created based on the music is served. This concert will feature an incaration of my piece, Euphony, for flute and cello.

April 9, 2015
Grand Valley State University Allendale Art Gallery
die Bibliomusik
This concert series, developed and directed by composer and oboist Julia Gjebic, promotes the work of young, active contemporary composers in an assortment of venues designed to bring new music to a wider community. The final installment of this concert series taking place this evening included a longer version of my 2015 microwork, Euphony, performed by Kevin Flynn, Nate Bliton, and Julia Gjecbic.
Free and open to the public!

April 3, 2015
Grand Valley State University Allendale
GVSU New Music Ensemble
The GVSU New Music Ensemble, under the direction of Professor Bill Ryan, performs their last campus event of the year featuring winners of the student composition competition (including my work, Stencils), Our resident guest artist of the week, Todd Reynolds, will also perform alongside the ensemble!There will also be a world premiere of an iPad ensemble composition by John Jansen.
Free and open to the public!

April 1, 2015
Grand Valley State University Allendale
Arts at Noon: Todd Reynolds
Violinist, composer, educator, and technologist Todd Reynolds is known as one of the founding fathers of the hybrid-musician movement and one of the most active and versatile proponents of what he calls 'present music.' The violinist of choice for Steve Reich, Meredith Monk, Bang on a Can, and founder of the string quartet known as Ethel, his compositional and performance style is a hybrid of old and new technology, multi-disciplinary aesthetic, and pan-genre composition and improvisation.
Free and open to the public!

March 12, 2015
Grand Valley State University Pew Campus
Sixth Annual GVSU Student Composers Microworks Competition
30 sixty-second pieces for the nationally recognized GVSU New Music Ensemble, directed by Bill Ryan, composed by GVSU student composers. I'm pleased to say that three of my microworks were included - Stencils, Euphony, and Watercolors.

February 20, 2015
Grand Valley State University Louis Armstrong Theater
Symphonic Wind Ensemble Concert
Leap Nation and Morning Premieres
Two works for chamber winds commissioned by Kevin Tutt, Director of Bands and Assistant Deparment chair. Leap Nation and Morning were comissioned as chamber works for undetermined instrumentation in the summer of 2014. After a wonderful rehearsal process with the GVSU Symphonic Wind Ensemble, these works are premiered tonight, conducted by Kevin Tutt and Ashlee Busch.

April 21, 2014
Michigan State University Fairchild Theater
Harm Estimate Premiere
Commissioned by the Spring 2014 Michigan State University Concert Orchestra, Harm Estimate is an energy-packed 6-minute musical rollercoaster composed specifically for this eclectic ensemble. Special thanks to the '13-'14 MSU Concert Orchestra, conductor Matt Forte, and vocalist Heather Marie Benson.

March 20-22, 2014
Michigan State University Kellogg Center
New Directions in Music Education: Teaching Composition, Improvisation, and the New Musicianship Conference
The New Directions in Music Education conference is designed to provide a stimulating environment for sharing and learning the latest scholarly advances and best teaching practices from some of the world's foremost teachers, researchers, and musicians.

October 29, 2013
Grand Valley State University
FreePlay27: Latitude 49
Latitude 49 is a dynamic mixed-chamber ensemble exploring new sounds, engaging diverse audiences, and holding hands with composers of today. Join Grand Valley students and faculty for a one hour concert follwed by a casual discussion with the ensemble.

October 8, 2013
Michigan State University, Residential College
Musique 21
This incredibly talented group, directed by Kevin Noe, presents an energetic and ecelctic program including works by Kevin Puts and Michael Torke. This wonderful ensemble will also perform the world premiere of my piece, Collage.

October 8, 2013
Michigan State University, Impact Radio
Philip Rice, Justin Rito, and myself are interviewed by the lovely Abbie Newton on her segment of Exposure.

September 25-27, 2013
Michigan State University
Guest Composer Residencies John Corigliano and John Mackey
These world renowned composers are on the campus of Michigan State University this week conducting master classes and coaching the top ensembles for both band and orchestra performances and the conclusion of the week including Corigliano's Clarinet Concerto featuring soloist Guy Yehuda.
Wind Symphony - Thursday, Sept 26, 7:30pm
Symphony Orchestra, Friday, Sept 27, 8pm

September 14, 2013
Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit
Strange, Beautiful Music VI
Experience an eight hour marathon while surrounded by invigorating contemporary art. Performers include Bang-On-A-Can All-Stars and the GVSU New Music Ensemble performing Steve Reich's Double Sextet.

August 17, 2013
Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum
Beyond Pluck Harp Duo
Harpists Paula Elizabeth Bressman and Rachel Renee Miller perform a variety of works spanning several centuries as the final performance under the exhibit 'Follow the Rules'

July 17-August 3, 2013
Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art
Bang on a Can Summer Music Festival
We travel to Massachusetts to hear the music of my dear friends, Adam Cuthbert and Bill Ryan, along with the amazing Bang on a Can All-Stars!

July 27, 2013
Michigan State University
Broad Museum of Art
New in Sound: Classical Music Program-Russian Romance
Acclaimed flutist, Maxim Rubtsov preforms classical Russian music for East Lansing

April 14, 2013
Michigan State University
Broad Museum of Art
Sound Escapes Concert Series I
Premieres by my students as well as some of my favorite colleagues!

February 1-2, 2013
Grand Valley State University
Billband Residency
2-2, Bill Ryan CD release party, Towards Daybreak

November 12-13, 2012
Grand Valley State University
David Lang Residency
11-13, performance of Cheating, Lying, Stealing by GVSU New Music Ensemble

November 6, 2012
Michigan State University
Student Composers' Premieres Concert!
Michigan State premiere of my work, Three Pianos
Hart Recital Hall

October 22, 2012
Michigan State Univerisity
Talk with composer Carter Pann
Hart Recital Hall

October 9, 2012
Michigan State University
Student Composers' Premieres Concert!
World premiere of my new work, Requiem!
Hart Recital Hall
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